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EduCon 2017

Last weekend was one of my favorite times of the year.

I spent a couple of days in a nondescript office building in center city Philadelphia masquerading as a school. This was a small but powerful conference knowns as EduCon, held each year in the depth of the mid-Atlantic winter at the Science Leadership Academy.

When I tell people about my trip, one of their first questions is why? Why do you continue to go to conferences like this? Aren’t you supposed to be retired?

The simple answer is, I’m still an educator and this event is a large part of my learning community.


This was the tenth edition of this conference, which is very different from most. Here it’s all about conversations around the idea of changing education, attracting some of the smartest most creative people I know. I’ve been there from the beginning, leading or co-leading discussions in about half of them, and I always leave with a long list of books to read, ideas to investigate, and new people to follow.

The theme this year was sustainability and, considering all the local and national crap going on around us, I was half expecting the mood to be rather pessimistic. There certainly was an undercurrent of apprehension (how could there not be?) but, overall most everyone was positive and determined to help fix the broken.

Robot Controllers

One great part of EduCon is that the faculty of SLA, many of the students, and even some parents are active participants in the discussions. Many of the sessions are also lead by staff and students, talking about their work and the inquiry driven process at the school. It’s even more remarkable when you remember that this is a public school, working with the same limited budget as other high schools, with a representative cross section of the city’s population.

I have a couple of posts in the works based on some discussions from the conference, but to close this one I’ll just recommend that you plan now to be in Philly next January 26-28. Dress warm, wear your walking shoes, and I’ll see you there.

Sunday Panel

Find more images from this year’s conference in the EduCon 2.9 Group on Flickr.

Join The Conversation

Next weekend I’ll be heading up to EduCon 2.2, the most unique conference I’ve ever attended.

For one thing, it’s relatively small, although with 500 people registered this year, it will be a little more crowed than the first one in 2008 where 75 or so of us showed up, not knowing what to expect.

But the big difference with EduCon is that the sessions, for the most part, are not lecture/demo presentations or hands-on workshops. And it is not a conference about technology.


The concept of EduCon-founder, and principal of the Science Leadership Academy, Chris Lehman was to get a bunch of interested and interesting educators together to have conversations about how we can change schools to better fit the way our students learn and the real world in which they live, as well as to grow networks of people who would continue those discussions long after the conference ended.

I’ll be leading one of those discussions and, while my topic does address technology, it’s concerned with why schools have remained isolated islands of status quo over the past twenty years, while the rest of the world has been fundamentally altered by computers, networks, and communications tools.

My session is titled “Why Has Technology Failed to Bring Substantial Change to American Schools (and what can we do about it)?” and this is the short description, the in-50-words-or-less explanation of the session in a way that will attract an audience.

The authors of Disrupting Class ask “Why haven’t computers brought about a transformation in schools the way they have in other areas of life?”. Excellent question. Join us for a discussion of what we can do to change that situation. Bring any and all ideas to share.

The proposal for this session grew from my growing frustration with American education and the two-faced embrace of techie tools while at the same time rejecting the transformative possibilities they offer.

Schools in the US have spent billions of dollars in just the past decade to buy laptops and software, install networks, connect classrooms to internet, and train teachers.

However, walk down the halls of your average American school, especially high schools, and you’re likely to see a teacher-directed, lecture-demo formatted lesson, with little or no technology use by either teacher or students.

Over the past few years, the most visible example of technology use in the classrooms of our overly-large school district has been interactive whiteboards, devices which chain teaching to standards of the previous century.

Talk all you want about “student engagement” and “interactivity”, these boards are little more than expensive electronic extensions of blackboards and chalk, controlled by the teacher, and locking the learning focus on them, not the students.

Anyway, IWBs are a topic for another rant and only a small piece of the discussion that I’d like to have in Philly.

If you’re coming to EduCon, please join us at 12:30 Sunday afternoon for what I hope will be a wonderful exchange of ideas on this topic.

And don’t think you must agree with the premise to participate. Feel free to let me know that I’m full of crap and that I’ve missed the mark entirely. Bring evidence of my cluelessness, however. :-)

If you’re not able to be at the conference in person, you can still attend and join the discussion online through the generous efforts of Elluminate who will be providing an interactive room for each session.

Links to the Elluminate rooms will be available from the conversations page on the EduCon site.

Now, if they can just keep the snowy weather out of town for the weekend, we’ll be golden.

A Good Reason to Visit Philadelphia in January

Last January, Chris Lehmann organized EduCon 2.0, an incredible and very unique little gathering at his school, the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.

It’s hard to call the event a “conference” since that calls to mind a formal agenda with structured sessions and lots of vendors hanging around waiting to sell something.


Instead the few hundred of us who attended spent two plus days engaged in conversations about education, technology, innovation and how to bring all the pieces together to improve teaching and learning.

When you include the great interaction with the amazing staff and students at SLA, it was pretty much impossible not to come away with a head full of new ideas and some great inspiration.

Since he didn’t learn his lessons from last year (putting this together is a lot of work! :-), Chris will be hosting EduCon 2.1 on January 23-25, again in Philadelphia at the SLA. Details, including the conversations already scheduled, are in the wiki.

If you’re within driving distance of Philly, please consider joining us. If you can’t attend in person, there will still be plenty of opportunities to participate through uStream, Twitter, and other back channels.

And, for even more thought-provoking fun, plan to come a day early to join Constructing Modern Math/Science Knowledge, created and driven by Gary Stager.

While I will be certainly be at EduCon (with warmer clothes this time!), unfortunately, I can’t come on Thursday. But considering the people Gary has lined up, it should be a pretty intensive day.

Chris notes that Aaron Sorkin wrote “Decisions are made by those who show up.”

Ok, so it’s time to show up!

Five Minutes to Improve Schools

Watch this presentation by Chris Lehmann.

Now watch it again and pay very close attention to what he’s saying about American education.

It’s very easy to get caught up in the unique format (sort of TED on speed :-) and Chris’ energy and miss his very important points.

For me his key idea is right here:

How is it that we have so many passionate dedicated educators and so many really failing schools? The problem is, that you put a good person in a bad system, the system wins every time. We need to change the system.


School reform movements in this country target just about everything other than our outdated and increasingly ineffective educational structure.

And that’s something that really needs to change.

Screaming At The Crowd

In his keynote address to a technology conference this week Chris is supposed to talk about all the wonderful things going on in his school, the Science Leadership Academy.

Before that, however, he has quite a few other things he would like to tell the people in that audience.

I want to scream at these folks… I want to shake them up. I want to tell them that we have to stop thinking that business has any idea what schools need to be. I want to tell them that our reliance on test scores will kill innovation and creativity. I want to tell them that every time I go to the exhibit floor at a conference and see more tools for monitoring, accountability and security than I see tools for creativity, creation and collaboration, I see us move one more step away from the dream of what I believe our schools can be.

I want to tell them that the Who had it right. The Kids Are Alright. It’s the adults that keep screwing up.

Everything in his rant is spot on. And there are many other audiences who need to hear the same thing!

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